“Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I’ll understand.” – Native American saying
When friend and collaborator Tom Lowery talked to me several weeks ago about the growing impact of professional facilitation, he had my attention. But when we talked about what social media can add to the training and facilitation process for companies, a new world of possibilities emerged.
How are professional facilitators currently incorporating social media into their business? How could the addition of social media impact their future success? Tom has filled a variety of corporate training roles for a number of years. I invited him to dig a little deeper into this phenomenon this week.
“I’ve been in rooms with teachers, lecturers, presenters and managers/meeting leaders who were boring as hell,” he said. “Business owners in love with the sound of their own tepid voices are a recipe for disaster.”
What makes the difference between boring as you-know-what and a session with employees or customers that leaves participants alive and on fire? To find out, Lowery used his connections to gather some inside views on the art of facilitation. Here are some of the things he discovered:
“Every business incorporates facilitation skills in their day-to-day business, whether they realize it or not,” says Andrea Kennedy, Product Training Specialist-Lexus Division at Toyota Motor Sales. “Facilitation skills aren’t just for formal training,” she said.
That makes sense. A great business needs to be successful both externally and internally.
“Businesses want to keep a finger on the pulse of their companies,” says Tricia Vanderwill, Freelance Facilitator for Acura, General Motors, Lexus and Mercedes Benz and others. “Employees who are the face of these companies need to have continuous knowledge, and the ability to express those thoughts and ideas with skill.”
I’ve talked in past columns about the ways social media can boost brand awareness, improve customer relations and increase sales. But consider this formula: Social media and facilitation are a great combination for increasing an intangible commodity—employee engagement—as well. Increased employee engagement increases the profitability of every business. So where do we begin?
For these answers we turned to a leader in the world of facilitation: Bill Heacock, the founder of Heacock, Perez and Associates. Known for his iconic courses such as Train the Trainer and Death by PowerPoint, Heacock sees social media and facilitation as powerful twins for success.
Says Heacock: “Social media will play a huge role going forward. Surveys suggest that much more learning takes place informally than formally in a work environment. If you don’t know how to do something, you typically don’t wait for the next regularly scheduled class; you simply ‘go ask Bob.’ Wikis, blogs, IM, Tweets, Texts, etc.–every new technological innovation makes a facilitator’s tool box even more robust and gives organizations yet another way to enhance employee performance on the job.”
Leadership and Engagement
How do leaders achieve audience engagement? They are up against some formidable odds. According to Statistic Brain, people’s abilities to pay attention is lower than we thought, and appears to be getting worse by the minute:
- The average attention span in 2012—8 seconds
- The average attention span in 2000—12 seconds
- The average attention span of a goldfish—9 seconds
- Average number of times per hour an office worker checks their email inbox—30
(Okay, I’ll fess up on this count; I probably check even more. But I’m fairly sure my attention span is at least a little longer than that of a fish.)
Chances are, most of us are riddled daily by over-caffeinated leaders who talk too much and say too little. These characters seemingly consume every molecule of oxygen in the room while imparting their pearls of wisdom and bon-mots of managerial waste, Lowery observes. Facilitators of this type are not leaders; they’re lecturers, Heacock maintains.
“A traditional lecturer bludgeons students with studies, statistics, and assertions,” Heacock says. “A skilled facilitator, on the other hand, would begin by asking, ‘Think about your years of driving…who can give me at least one reason why it makes sense to wear a seatbelt?’ Ok, very good, let me write that on the flipchart….what might another reason be…? By the end of the discussion, a list of students’ reasons to wear a seatbelt would be captured on the flipchart. The audience came to that conclusion, not the presenter. People don’t argue with their own data.”
The challenges of effective facilitation are even greater when you consider the increasingly low levels of employee engagement and leaders’ seeming inability to address the issue, even when the consequences are massive revenue losses:
- The lost productivity of actively disengaged employees costs the US economy $370 billion annually. (Gallup)
- In February, June, and October of 2010, the number of employees voluntarily quitting surpassed the number fired or discharged. (US Bureau of Labor Statistics)
- 70% of engaged employees indicate they have a good understanding of how to meet customer needs; only 17% of non-engaged employees say the same. (Wright Management)
- 78% of engaged employees would recommend their company’s products of services, against 13% of the disengaged. (Gallup)
- Engaged employees advocate their company or organization – 67% against only 3% of the disengaged. (Gallup)
- From a global sample of 60 corporations the Corporate Leadership Council found that over 80% of senior human resources (HR) professionals agreed that employee engagement was a high priority for 2009 and 40% claimed it had become more of a priority over the last year. Senior private sector HR managers believe that the top challenge they face now is maintaining employee engagement.
- 86% of engaged employees say they very often feel happy at work, as against 11% of the disengaged. 45% of the engaged say they get a great deal of their life happiness from work, against 8% of the disengaged. (Gallup)
- Less than 50% of chief financial officers appear to understand the return on their investments in human capital. (Accenture)
- 75% of leaders have no engagement plan or strategy even though 90% say engagement impacts on business success. (ACCOR)
It’s critical for companies to reinforce their message and brand through employee engagement. Without it, employee contributions have little meaning or are even entirely lost.
Engagement Through Social Media
Now let’s turn our attention to the difference social media can make. While the trainers Lowery interviewed agree that social media is an essential tool and even a strategic weapon for instilling audience engagement, industry research indicates that by and large, we continue to have a long way to go. The 2013 Towers Watson Change and Communication ROI Survey studied 290 large and midsize organizations across North America, Europe and Asia in April 2013. They looked at social networks, streamed video/audio and blogs. What the survey uncovered was startling Here’s the full study and its infographic.)
- Despite the explosion of social media, barely more than half of employers are using social media tools to communicate and build community with employees.
- Among employers who have embraced social media technology, there is little consensus as to which is most effective.
- 56% of employers surveyed currently use social media tools as part of their internal initiatives to build community—creating a sense that employees and leaders are in it together, and sharing both the challenges and rewards of work.
- However, when asked how they would rate the effectiveness of social media tools, only 30% to 40% of respondents rated most of the tools they use as highly effective.
- Only 4 in 10 (40%) rated the use of social media technology as cost effective. The percentage drops by roughly half (to 23%) when it comes to building community with remote workers.
“We believe social media can be a great tool for communicating with employees in the workplace,” says Kathryn Yates, Global Leader of Communication Consulting at Towers Watson. “For employers to effectively engage, they will need to connect with their leaders, managers and colleagues. Social media tools can be a real help in making this connection.”
A company that is currently leveraging social media in its leadership facilitation is Lexus. Lexus has been leading the J.D. Power awards for quality and customer-satisfaction since July of 1990, according to multiple reports. In February of 2012, the company and its dealers combined social media with professional facilitation in an effort to take its customer satisfaction to yet another arena by borrowing a page from the Apple playbook and creating a “Genius Bar” resource of its own.
In the process, brand executives trained hundreds of “Lexus delivery specialists” and “Lexus technology specialists,” this year with the help of facilitators like Tricia Vanderwill to handle the task of “training the trainers,” on streamlined customer service methods as well as providing additional training to in-house facilitation staff such as Lexus’ Andrea Kennedy.
“Bill Heacock’s class was an eye-opener for me, both personally and professionally,” Kennedy said. “He reminded me that training is not about me—it’s entirely about the students. If a class is not engaged, it’s because I’m doing something wrong.”
“I run my facilitation skills programs for pharmaceutical companies, manufacturing companies, medical device companies, government agencies, banks, police departments, you name it,” Heacock said. “The need for good facilitation skills applies to all.” A study by the American Psychological Association reinforces this point: the research determined that during one particular lecture they examined, only 10% of the audience was mentally “in the room.” At any given time in the presentation, 90% of the audience was already gone.
In addition to the use of social media, how do Heacock, Kennedy and Vanderwill suggest managers and presenters improve their skills?
- Heacock: Focus on your audience. “Many lecturers and presenters tend to focus on the delivery of their message. Facilitators, on the other hand, focus on the receipt of their message. They focusing on what they are going to ask and how they can best orchestrate the necessary mental and/or physical activities on the part of their audiences.”
- Vanderwill: Get people talking about themselves. “It’s everyone’s favorite topic. It also breaks tension and brings the session into a more intimate type of setting.”
- Heacock: Know people’s habits. “There is a tendency to overestimate the attention span of an adult. Most people can pay attention to any one thing no longer than 2 or 3 minutes at a time. Every 2 or 3 minutes, the adults in the room ‘take a trip.’ They think about their next meal, and come back. 2 or 3 minutes later, they think about the weather or a project on their desks, and come back. 2 or 3 minutes later, they think about a relationship or someone they met in a bar last night….if they like what they find, they may stay out there awhile.”
- Kennedy: Become mindfully aware. “Meetings are a great example. The meeting leader must learn how to keep the subject moving and engage others. Is the meeting a conference call or in person? Brain-storming session or a presentation? Are you looking for feedback or just presenting material? The answers should affect how a manager/leader presents the material. When I look back on some of the meetings I’ve been in where I walked out feeling like it was a waste of my time, I realize that the meeting could’ve been more productive if the leader took the time to really assess what they wanted and spent the time engaging the participants.”
- Heacock: Raise manager awareness and understanding of the training function. “The overarching goal of classes I teach for managers is to help them see the very critical role they play in their organization’s getting a high return on its investment in training. Unless managers actively support and reinforce what their employees learn in training, very little of it will translate into improved job performance. Studies have suggested only about 10% of what is taught actually gets used on the job…when you think about the billions of dollars spent each year on training by US-based companies, it’s a scary thought indeed.”
- Vanderwill: Learn to listen actively. “I usually learn just as much as the participants, so it’s rewarding on many levels. I’m the teacher and the student; they’re the students and the teachers, too.” (Vanderwill’s attitude paid off—she was recently asked to be a special guest speaker for Napa Valley Vitners Hospitality Boot camp.)
- Heacock: Use social media effectively. “A webinar, when facilitated correctly, can rival a face-to-face experience. I teach a 90-minute webinar called, On-Line Facilitation Skills during which I model the use of student polling, annotation, questioning, chat activities and others to let people experience for themselves that webinars can be extremely interactive and engaging. I offer a webinar (aka “virtual” classrooms) version of most of my programs as an alternative when a client is unable to pull an audience together for one of my face-to-face workshops (for logistic, cost, or other reasons).”
- Vanderwill: Be interactive. “It can be very difficult to keep multiple people with many different learning styles engaged. But you can thrive in it, laugh a lot at yourself and make engagement fun and less intimidating.” (A note: Learning style is an individual’s natural or habitual pattern of acquiring and processing information. There are at least seven styles of learning: auditory/oral; kinesthetic, tactile, haptic, interactive, olfactory, and print or read/write learners. You can take a brief quiz here to discover your own learning style.)
- Heacock: Practice the “2-3 rule. “A facilitation technique ensuring that you never let your audience be mentally or physically passive more than 2 or 3 minutes, or 2 or 3 points at a time. At least every 2 or 3 minutes, or 2 to 3 points, (hopefully even more frequently than that), plan to ask a question, orchestrate a group activity, tell a great story, or do something that will have the effect of bringing people mentally ‘back into the room.’ If you practice often enough you begin to ‘feel’ when it is time to ask a question or otherwise interact with your audience. Almost like a mental alarm clock going off inside your head.”
- Kennedy: Know your style. “Bill tested us during his class on our styles and I learned that my style is “Concrete Sequential.” Basically it means I am a high-strung type-A person that likes PowerPoint and lecture type training. I prefer order. That works for the type of training I do with Lexus since most of our training materials come in PowerPoint and are lecture-driven. Where the challenge comes is that not everyone learns that way. I am working on integrating all types of learning styles into my training.”
- Heacock: Be a “guide on the side” as opposed to a “sage on the stage.” “A facilitator or leader is someone who guides an audience to a particular outcome rather than someone who simply dispenses information. Much more focused on their audience than they are on themselves.”
To conclude our virtual roundtable, Lowery asked each of the facilitation leaders to share their most cherished or inspired career moments and gathered a parting word of wisdom from each:
Kennedy: “I grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood and lived in a small one bedroom apartment with my parents, sleeping on a pull out couch. My father would build big-block engines for racers to make extra money. Because space was limited, the engine stand would be next to my ‘bed’ so my father could work on it at night after returning home from his day job. Curious, I started asking my father what he was doing and that’s when he would show me how an engine works. That was it—I was hooked. I started drag racing as a teenager. Friday nights at a local drag strip or going to speedways across the country for SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) events. When I started dating, I realized that my dates had to have a love for cars or it wasn’t going to work out. I was destined to work in the automotive industry because I love cars.”
Vanderwill: “I was standing alone in front of 120 people talking wine, cars and customer service……something happened….they were all so engaged….it was a heady experience…..I walked off feeling in my bones I’d rocked it. I felt truly that I knew that what I was doing and what I’m supposed to be doing. I’d found my voice and my career.”
Heacock: “I wish that I could take credit for this, but it came from my mentor, the legendary Jim Cook. He was once asked by a frustrated trainer how to deal with students who were falling asleep in his classroom. Dr. Cook looked at this trainer and without missing a beat said, ‘Talking students don’t sleep.’ Whoa! I tell you, that simple phrase should be the mantra of every trainer, presenter, lecturer and facilitator on the planet.”
And, uh, always check your zipper before walking up to the front of the room…. (Tom, did that final bit of advice come from you? A word to the wise—or perhaps a note of experience?–from an individual who is highly skilled trainer himself.) If, as Andrea Kennedy says, we’re all facilitators in our current businesses, what are you currently doing to maximize these critical skills? Perhaps we should all be doing at least a little bit more. We welcome your thoughts.
Additional reporting for this article provided by Tom Lowery, author, columnist, corporate trainer, and entrepreneur. You can find Tom’s additional columns at his personal blogspot, Thinking Out Loud. Author: Cheryl Conner | Google+